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A Ryan McDonagh Injury Could Rock Shaky Rangers Defense

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The Rangers might not be able to afford a McDonagh injury.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

We still don't know the severity of the Ryan McDonagh injury from the Wayne Simmonds sucker punch that came during the Rangers 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers on Saturday. If you missed the incident you can re-watch it here:

As of this writing there is no update on McDonagh's condition -- and with the Rangers playing the Devils tonight I have to assume McDonagh won't be dressing. There's a lot of injuries that cam stem from a punch to the jaw, the worst of the bunch being a broken jaw or a concussion.

This puts the Rangers in an interesting position. It's pretty clear Alain Vigneault wanted nothing to do with Dylan McIlrath actually playing -- they rushed Kevin Klein back as soon as they possibly could for the Flyers game -- but that's going to change with a McDonagh injury.

If McDonagh is out -- and remember, at this point it's all speculation -- then the Dan Girardi safety net on the top pairing has been removed. And since Vigneault has shown a tendency to pair Girardi and Marc Staal in crunch time things might get a little ... interesting.

This is a Rangers defense, mind you, which has had pretty serious issues all year as it is. McDonagh hasn't been the McDonagh we're used to game in and game out, but he's still been better than the rest of the "top four." To have him go down for an extended period of time and not have a true replacement is a problem (especially when you're paying two players as if they were top defenseman). Funny thing is, I actually think McIlrath has proven himself to be able to handle top four minutes. Vigneault refuses to trust him, though, giving him under 12 minutes in the game against the Wild. That's not to say he's going to be capable of handing McDonagh's minutes, but he might be able to alleviate some of the pressure on the defense as a whole.

Here's my point: Right now Vigneault doesn't really trust McIlrath or Dan Boyle. Some days he trusts Keith Yandle and other days he doesn't. On the other hand Girardi, Klein and Staal seem to have the coach's full trust no questions ask.

Which tells me the top four is going to look something like this without McDonagh:

Girardi - Staal

Klein - Yandle

McIlrath - Boyle

Those pairings should scare you, they're also the most likely scenario if McDonagh is out. I suppose Vigneault could swap in Yandle and McIlrath (a pairing that's been spectacular in their limited minutes) but it would also ensure they get far less ice time and in the end become ineffective.

When Girardi and Staal have been paired together at even strength they've been the biggest liability Vigneault can ice. This data is a week old, but with McIlrath's lack of playing time the numbers shouldn't deviate from this much at all.

Right now that looks to be the Rangers top pairing, unless Vigneault surprises me and buries Girardi and/or Staal to the bottom pairing. Also keep in mind that Klein is playing injured -- and some of his shots and passes were way off due to that thumb injury -- which adds another wrinkle to this issue.

The one silver lining is Vigneault will have to play Yandle more on the power play, but that's a small consolation prize for losing McDonagh for the even strength portion of the game.

As a reminder: Since we don't know the extent of McDonagh's injury most of this is speculation. But there's enough smoke here that McDonagh might miss some time.

And if that's the case, get ready for things to get a little dicey.